Last Wednesday was the 4th of July, and there were any number of ways you could have known that: pets that were still in shock, coma or hung-over from the medication, the number of firework shell casings adorning the landscape, your distinct lack of sleep due to the fireworks shell casings adorning the landscape, the 11 pounds of leftover potato salad with two chicken thighs, or … maybe it was just the noise.
No, not the noise from the celebrations or the bands or the children’s laughter or even the munitions; it was the noise from the people who felt a need to tell us who we are, and who we need to be. Funny thing, too, because no matter who it is who’s doing the “telling,” the instruction always seems to be the same – be more like me.
Be more like us, because “us” is YOU.
And WE know what’s good for YOU, and YOU do, too, because, in your heart-of-hearts, YOU know you really are US, so … Good for us!
…and beware of THEM.
I thought it was just me, because I almost always think it’s just me, so I went and talked to a buddy who is well along in his Elder journey, and not always sympathetic to my particular socio-political sympathies. He just laughed: “Lord, no, it isn’t just you! It’s all of us!”
He laughed some more.
He explained, kind of (He’s an Elder, so he can do that) in words like this – kind of:
We’re so cock-sure of being right and scared-to-death of being wrong, because we’re scared-to-death. Everything is changing: Technology, world politics, the climate and the environment, and the ECONOMY! Ways a guy could make a good living just a few years ago are gone! What’s replacing those? We don’t know – yet.
We don’t know how to be or how to act or what to learn or what to ignore – The RULES are changing right in front of us! What do we do?
We go back to an earlier time – another way of thinking, when we knew what the rules and expectations were. We knew what to do and how to act, and what to believe in. We knew what was “right.” Or we leap ahead to sometime in the future when everything will be different, but we’ll understand it, so we’ll know what to do and how to act and what to believe in and all the “bad stuff” will be over and we can pretend that this was a “simpler time,” but in the meantime, here we are: scared-to-death.
So, we point fingers and make accusations and quote God, because when people are frightened and struggling, the world doesn’t have a lot of gray. It’s black-and-white, good-or-bad, true or untrue, and we’ll even lie about THAT (if we have to) because we’re scared to death.
“I had a good day yesterday,” he said, “because I get a kick out of being an American! And I love fried chicken!”
He shouldn’t love fried chicken, because I know about his cholesterol, but that wasn’t his point. He went on – kind of:
We are so brash! Alive! Even in our ignorance and arrogance, we are so energetic! We will By-God-do-it-and-by-God-tell-them-about-it, even when we don’t know what we’re talking about! Look: The vast majority of folks are good, decent people who just want to do the right thing, have their lives, raise their children with hope for the future and feel like we did the best we could – don’t you?
Sure you do! Who doesn’t? We just don’t know what to do, anymore, to do that. There used to be a lot of things we didn’t know, so we did things out of ignorance. We didn’t know any better and a lot of it seemed to work out: We had jobs, raised families and fried chicken; but now. Now, we’re beginning to learn what we didn’t know, and the “rules” are going to have to change. What’s even worse is that we don’t know what we’re GOING to know, so we’re guessing: Is this the “right” way? The “better” way?
My buddy isn’t an all-or-nothing kind of guy (unless the subject is fried chicken or my opinion of his cholesterol): “And you know what’s true, Son? You know who’s right?”
I braced and shuttered, at the same time. I didn’t know you could do that. He didn’t notice.
“I’ll tell ya who’s right: Nobody.”
And when did this old **** turn into the Zen Master? It was something like this:
How often have you seen absolute “black?” Right , not much. You’ve seen “mostly black,” and “pretty black” and “getting toward black” and what-not, but ABSOLUTE BLACK? Not often. Or white – doesn’t matter; same thing here: Nobody’s “right,” cuz nobody ever is or ever was, and everybody knows it, deep-down, somewhere.
The truth will be what the truth has always been: Some of this and some of that, some of yesterday and some of tomorrow all mixed up in a stew that we can’t imagine, cuz it’s not our job. Our job is to do the best we can with what we have.
I love being an American! How crazy-boring would it be to be anything else! We’re so full of …well, you know – we can’t WAIT to tell the world about it! We’re young and we’re generous and we’ll do for you as fast as we’ll do for ourselves. We love and we work and we try – We REALLY try! We care! And a lot of times, we do pretty darned good!
But not always – Sometimes, we need a good…come-uppance, cuz someday we’re going to have to take a little responsibility for the fact that “they” aren’t “them,” and never were – “They” have always been “us.”
“Now, shut up and eat some leftover drumstick.”
I hate it when he does that! But not on the Sunday after the 4th of July.
Mark Harvey is the director of Senior Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information & Assistance.